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NASA’s Latest HLV Worry: Bid Protests

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
May 3, 2011
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NASA — already grappling with what it views as an impossible task given to it by Congress — is facing one more worry in its effort to build a heavy-lift vehicle: bid protests. Space News reports:

If NASA chooses to leverage this hardware under existing contracts for the heavy-lift rocket, as directed in the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, it could face a challenge from companies that are not currently in the mix. Propulsion provider Aerojet of Sacramento, Calif., for example, has made clear its desire for a competition to build elements of the Space Launch System.

“We need to pick a path where we have mitigated the possibility for a protest to the degree we can,” Cooke said in an April 26 interview. “And no matter what path you take there is always that possibility. You can always get a protest.”

Private companies can challenge a government contract award decision at the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) or the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. Even modifications to existing contracts are fair game when it comes to bid protests, Cooke said, if the changes significantly alter the scope of the work being performed….

In January the agency submitted a preliminary report to Congress detailing a reference vehicle design based on shuttle and Ares technologies, though it said more time was needed to determine the most cost-effective and sustainable design for the new rocket. NASA is currently studying options in addition to the shuttle- and Ares-derived system but also vehicles that would rely on kerosene-fueled main engines — the RS-25 is liquid-hydrogen fueled — as well as designs based on the existing Atlas 5 and Delta 4 rockets.

Shortly before the report was delivered to lawmakers in January, Aerojet urged NASA to hold a competition to build the new heavy-lift vehicle. Aerojet, which builds both liquid- and solid-fueled rocket motors, could be left without a significant role in the Space Launch System should NASA pursue a vehicle based on existing propulsion systems.

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